By Gevorg Stamboltsian in Prague and Emil Danielyan
Armenia remains a “partly free” country because of its leadership’s “limited respect for political rights and civil liberties,” a renowned U.S. watchdog said on Wednesday.
In an annual survey of freedom around the world, Freedom House ranked Armenia among 58 nations which its believes are rife with corruption, lack free elections and rule of law, and are often dominated by a single political party.
The Washington-based group again evaluated the state of political rights and civil liberties in each of the 193 countries surveyed on a 7-point negative scale. It found no changes in these areas in Armenia over the past year, giving it 5 and 4 points in the two respective categories.
“Armenia’s scores are right on the border between a partly free and a not free country,” Christopher Walker, Freedom House’s director of studies, told RFE/RL. “So it's actually one of the weaker Partly Free countries in the global review.”
“This is a reflection of a weak performance in a number of key areas, including in the media and citizens’ ability to express their participation in the political process in a meaningful way,” Walker said. He expressed concern about what he described as an ongoing “oligarchization of politics in the country” and increased instances of violence against Armenian journalists reported in 2006.
Freedom House underlined these concerns in a statement last November that urged the United States to withhold $235.6 million in promised economic assistance to Yerevan. It accused the administration of President Robert Kocharian of “backsliding on promised reforms” and using “multiple anti-democratic methods” to cling to power.
The statement drew on two detailed country reports that were released by Freedom House earlier in 2006 and painted a bleak picture of democracy and rule of law in Armenia. The findings of those reports were dismissed by the Armenian authorities.
U.S. officials say Washington will take into account Freedom House’s opinion in deciding whether to disburse the promised aid. But they indicated that its release is primarily conditional on the freedom and fairness of the upcoming Armenian parliamentary elections.